Blogger Ben Connelly has written an insightful post entitled, “The Most Wonderful Time(s) of the Year.” He points out that in the book of Leviticus, God created holidays and “commanded His people to pause several times each year, simply to feast and celebrate.” He gives several examples of how Christ followers can use holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, and events such as birthdays and funerals to share Jesus with others. “Some of the best chances for mission involve inviting our mission field into our special occasions, and joining theirs.”
Category Archives: Culture
In his book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, author James Emery White has one chapter devoted to key components of a church’s ministry that will keep the front door open and help attract the unchurched. Here’s a summary of his principles.
- Friendliness—You must be intentional about the guest’s experience and cultivate an atmosphere of acceptance. “Acceptance is not affirmation, but it is an embrace.”
- Children’s Ministry—Children are the heart of your growth engine. And if nones ever come to your church uninvited, it will probably be for the sake of their kids.
- Music—Music matters, and the key is cultural translation. And remember, there’s no such thing as traditional music.(See yesterday’s blog.)
- Building—From the moment when nones first view the church and its grounds, the initial impression is made; physical surroundings convey strong messages.
- Importance of the Visual—Over the last twenty years we have decisively moved to a visually based world and the church needs to move with it.
Does all this matter? It depends on whether or not you are expecting company.
In his book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, author James Emery White addresses to issue of music in the worship service. His perspective might surprise you.
There is no such thing as traditional music. All music was, at one time, newfangled, contemporary, cutting-edge, and probably too loud. The great hymns of Martin Luther are considered traditional and sacred to our ears, but they were anything but traditional and sacred to the people of Luther’s day. Many of the great hymns written during the Protestant Reformation, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” were based on barroom tunes that were popular during that period. Luther simply changed the lyrics and then put the song into the life of the church. The result? People were able to meaningfully express themselves in worship—or at least connect with it stylistically.
Charles Wesley also borrowed from the secular music of his day, and John Calvin hired secular songwriters to put his theology to music, leading the Queen of England to call them “Geneva Jigs.” Bach provides a similar pattern, as he used a popular form of music known as the cantata for weekly worship music. He was also known to seize tunes from “rather questionable sources and rework them for the church.” Even Handel’s Messiah was condemned as “vulgar theater” by the churchmen of his day for having too much repetition and not enough content.
The last line is worth rereading. The point? Throughout history you’ll find a connection between church growth and contemporary music. Sorry if that’s too crass for you, but it’s true. Don’t ever downplay music—remember, there’s an entire book of the Bible that is almost nothing but lyrics you can work from so here are two words that will serve you well: music matters.
Just as the deeper issue with friendliness is an atmosphere of acceptance, the deeper issue with music is cultural translation. Let’s retire such words as relevant and contemporary, shall we? The heart of it all is a missionary enterprise: learn the language of the people, the music, the dress, the customs—and then translate the gospel for them.
Chase this with me for a moment. If we were dropped into the deepest reaches of the Amazon basin as missionaries of the gospel to reach a specific unreached tribe of people, we would attempt to learn the language, dress in a way that is appropriate, craft a worship experience that uses indigenous instruments and styles, and work tirelessly to translate the Scriptures into their language. No one would argue with that approach. It’s Missiology 101. Now realize that your mission field is the West. Are you doing the work of a missionary?
When you ask the average person, “If you died tonight, do you know for certain if you’d go to heaven?” their response if often like this comic.
Scripture, however, explains that we can know for certain.
Romans 6:23 points out that I have a problem. I am a sinner in need of a savior.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The bad news is that because I am a sinner by nature and by choice, I deserve to be punished. Like receiving a paycheck at the end of the month for my work on the job, death is the just wages for my sin.
The good news is that eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. Even better news is that heaven is a free gift. It’s not earned or deserved.
Romans 10:9-10 goes on to explain how I can receive this free gift.
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
- I believe the good news that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and that he rose from the dead on the third day
- I confess Jesus is Lord by asking him to forgive my sins
- I can know for certain that heaven awaits me when I die
I’m working my way through a thought provoking book by James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated. In chapter 4, “A Post‑Christian World,” the author explores the impact of culture on Christianity. He identifies and explains “Three Moving Cultural Currents”:
- Secularization: The church is losing its influence as a shaper of life and thought in the wider social order, and Christianity is losing its place as the dominant worldview.
- Privatization: A chasm is created between the public and the private spheres of life, and spiritual things are increasingly placed with the private arena.
- Pluralization: Individuals are confronted with a staggering number of ideologies and faith options competing for their attention.
Regarding secularization, I found the following illustration particularly insightful.
In his Guide for the Perplexed, author E. F. Schumacher relates his experience of getting lost during a sightseeing trip to Moscow during the Stalinist era. Trying to get his bearings, he found himself standing with several large churches within his line of sight. Yet none of these churches were found on his map. An interpreter came to assist him and explained, “We don’t show churches on our maps.”
Schumacher contradicted the interpreter by quickly pointing out a church that was clearly on his map.
“That is a museum,” the interpreter said, “not what we call a ‘living church.’ It is only the ‘living churches’ we don’t show.”
That, Schumacher goes on to conclude, was the cultural point. Those things that mankind has most believed in are no longer on the map of reality, or if they are, they are relegated to a museum. In reflecting on Schumacher’s story, Huston Smith notes that our world “has erased transcendence from our reality map.” Or as C. S. Lewis observes, “Almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.”
City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons – “The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.”
Synod14 – Eleventh General Assembly: “Relatio post disceptationem” of the General Rapporteur, Card. Péter Erdő, 13.10.2014 - A recent press release from the Vatican states that there is a call for priests to note the benefits of cohabitation of unmarried couples, and a rhetorical (?) question asking if the church can accept and value the sexual orientation of homosexuals without violating church teaching. In neither case is either acts condemned but they seem to lean more toward arguing for each.
In “Burning Bridges,” (Season 5, Episode 3) of the CBS drama, Blue Bloods, NYPD Commissioner Frank Regan, played by Tom Selleck, makes a passing comment to the press that the Catholic Church is behind the times on its stance on homosexuality. This, despite the fact that his character is a staunch Catholic.
Followers of Christ are once again faced with the question – Who sets the standards for faith and practice–culture, the Christian community, or the commandments of God? Do we follow society, saints, or the Scriptures?
It may become increasingly lonely to be an evangelical and to hold fast to what Scripture teaches.
John 15:18–19 – “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Luke 18:8 – I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
This afternoon I received a robo call on my cell phone. The recording said my B of A debit card had been locked and that I was to press “1” to be transferred to the department that could help me resolve the problem. It sounded too much like a scam, so I hung up. I then called B of A directly and talked to a real person. Sure enough, it was a scam, and one that the bank has received a number of calls about. I’m not sure how they got my cell number or knew which bank I was with, but it was cause for caution and a healthy skepticism.